We have just returned from a 3-day visit to Vancouver. For me, it was a chance to scope out the latest and greatest in cafe culture in the lower mainland.
The coffee scene in Victoria and Vancouver has taken a massive leap forward. For coffee consumers, fans, geeks and newcomers, it is an all good news message. For existing cafes that are not getting in on some of the trends, they run the risk of getting left behind.
So what is going on in Victoria and Vancouver and who are the players?
Vancouver: The Elysian Room (5th Avenue West & Burrard) and Prado (Commercial and East 4th) seem to be ‘top of their game’ with espresso. This is not to say that there are not contenders breathing fire up their portafilters – because there are, and the players are plenty.
The Cafe Artigianos are holding their own in the espresso zone but they see some of the writing on the wall – as a result they have responded with Clover coffee at one location and thermal French press presentations at some of the other locations. Add to that some very exotic offerings; cup of excellence single origin bean – and now you have the mixings for a very competitive position on the part of the Piccolo’s cafes.
JJ Bean? They are not exactly resting on their laurels. They offer uber-fresh origins, blends and espressos that are always spot-on!
Over on Vancouver Island, there is no lack of activity. In fact, there may be more on the ball here (per capita) than in Vancouver or Seattle.
Sam Jones, of Discovery Coffee and 2% Jazz has cornered the market on the leading edge gear – Synesso and Clover. Sam is even roasting his own bean. And although his roasts are not quite at the level of a Batdorf and Bronson, he shows great promise. Currently, the intellectual leader of leading edge roasting is at Cafe Fantastico – Derek is currently handling the bulk of the batch roasting with Ryan and Kristie doing parental duty.
So. What about the tools that I keep refering to?
The Clover. It is a brewer. It is a single cup brewer. In the right hands (and the right coffee) it can produce a remarkable cup.
It is like a French-press on steroids. All steel. An element of pressure brewing. It produces a remarkably transparent cup. From what I have tasted it has surpassed anything I can do with my most high-end temperature controlled drip brewing techniques.
There are some words that I would like to toss around to describe my initial Clover experiences: stunning, shocking, humbling, challenging… I could go on and on about this.
The Clover could be the single most important development in the cafe tool-kit in years. I mentioned previously that the Aeropress is the single most significant development for the home or travelling coffee lover of the last 25 years. However hyperbolic, I stand behind this statement.
In the World of espresso brewing, there are the Rancilio’s, the Gaggia’s, the Cimbali’s, the Nuova Simonelli and the like.
Then there is the La Marzocco and the Synesso.
There is some family history between those last two.
One of the engineers from L.M. left to become a Synesso engineering partner. Good move.
The Synesso takes advantage of digital temperature control and pre-infusion to ensure the best possible environment for the espresso brew cycle. If you can find a cafe in your neighborhood that uses a Synesso – do it!
So. Victoria has one. Ladysmith B.C. has one. Nanaimo has two I believe – soon three! The Coyote Cafe, currently my pick for Vancouver Island’s best cup of coffee and espresso, uses a Synesso. They know their coffee and it shows.
Yup – for coffee lovers, there are exciting times indeed. There is something very special happening in Victoria and Vancouver right now – perhaps this is an important part of our coffee/cafe history.